Papers of John Adams, volume 8

To Benjamin Franklin, 8 December 1779 JA Franklin, Benjamin To Benjamin Franklin, 8 December 1779 Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin
To Benjamin Franklin
Sir Ferrol Decr. 8. 1779

I have the Honour to inform your Excellency, that Congress having judged it proper to appoint me to a new Mission in Europe I embarked on the thirteenth of November,1 at the Instance of The Chevalier de La Luzerne and Mr. Gerard, on Board the same Frigate that carried me to America. Soon after We got to sea a formidable Leake in the ship discovered itself so as to oblige Us to keep two Pumps, constantly going by Night and Day, which induced the Captain to think it necessary to put into this Place, where We have just now cast Anchor.

Whether I shall go to Paris by Land or wait for the Frigate is uncertain; I believe the former, as the latter might detain me, four or five

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Weeks. I have dispatches for your Excellency from Congress, which I shall carry with me, and News papers. These latter contain little remarkable save the Evacuation of Rhode Island by the Enemy, and the Compte D'Estaings Progress in Georgia, in Cooperation with General Lincoln, which was in a fair Course of success.2

I hope the Confederacy, which sailed from Philadelphia, three or four Weeks before Us, with Mr. Gerard and Mr. Jay, who is appointed Minister plenipotentiary for Spain, has happily arrived,3 and made it unnecessary for me to enlarge upon the general state of Affairs in America, which were upon the whole in a favourable Train. I hope to have the Honour of saluting you at Passy in a few Weeks, and am with4 sir, your most obedient servt

John Adams

RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers.); addressed: “A Son Excellence Monsieur Monsieur Franklin Ministre Plenipotentiaire des Etats Unis de L'Amerique, a Passy pres Paris”; docketed: “J. Adams Decr. 10. 79.” LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers).


The date on which JA boarded La Sensible; the vessel left Boston Harbor on 15 Nov. His voyage is recounted in JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:402–404 (entry for 24 Nov. and following), 4:191–194 (entry for 5 Nov. and following); JQA, Diary , 1:3–10 (entry for 15 Nov. and following); and Adams Family Correspondence , 3:235–239 (JA to AA, 15 and 20 Nov.; JQA to AA, 20 Nov.).


On 28 Oct. the Independent Chronicle reported that the British evacuation of Newport had been completed on the 25th. The Boston Gazette on 1 Nov. listed Estaing's alleged victories in Georgia.


John Jay sailed on 20 Oct. 1779 in the Continental frigate Confederacy, but storm damage forced the vessel into St. Pierre, Martinique, in mid-December. There Jay transferred to the French frigate Aurora, which arrived at Cadiz on 22 Jan., making a total voyage of 95 days (Morris, Peacemakers , p. 1–7). This was in sharp contrast to JA's 24-day passage.


A blank space appears here; the Letterbook copy has “great Respect.”

To Elbridge Gerry, 11 December 1779 JA Gerry, Elbridge To Elbridge Gerry, 11 December 1779 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
My dear Sir Ferrol Decr 11. 1779

I have escaped, the Rage of the Sea and the Vigilance of British Men of War, and the Treachery of a Leaky ship: but have got the Mountains of Asturias, and the Pyrenees to pass with all the Snows. It is a monstrous Journey to Paris, at least three hundred and twenty Leagues. The Roads, Taverns, Mules and every Thing inconvenient as We are told, and the Expence great enough.

This Part of the World is filled with Rumours as well as yours. They talk much of Commotions in Ireland &c. &c: but I can get nothing certain here. The Removal of D'Orvillier occasions much Speculation: But Duchauffaud is universally allowed to be an excellent officer.1

I cant see a Ray of Hope of being much employed untill after another Campaign, in Negotiations for Peace: But I see that some Seeds may be advantageously sown, wherever I go. There are many mistaken 295notions concerning our Affairs which are easily rectified, and much Information may be given and received.

Nothing is of more Importance than to give the French and Spaniards just Ideas of the Resources they may draw from the United States, by carrying on the War with Vigour, in the American Seas. They have as yet no adequate Conception of the Advantages they have of the English, in that Quarter—in the facility of procuring Supplies of materials, Artisans, and Provisions, at a time when the English must draw all from Europe.

It now appears to me, very easy to reduce the English in N. York. A Superior Fleet, Stationed at Rhode Island, or cruising on the Coast of America, or playing between the Continent and the Islands, would cutt off their supplies so as to ruin them.

This Port of Ferroll is a grand Thing. I had no Idea of it. The Works are astonishing.2

I find much Civility here, and many Professions of good Will to the states. Some of the Spaniards, have not yet got out of their Heads the Idea, of mauvaise Exemple:3 But when they are led to consider the Difference between their Colonies and the English, that there is no Probability or Possibility of their ever undertaking as the English did, to subvert the fundamentals of an Established Government—and the Nature of their Governments which can suppress in an instant the first Symptom of discontent, they easily give it up. I am in great Haste, yours

John Adams

RC (MHi: Gerry-Knight Coll.); docketed: “Ferrol Letter His Excellcy J Adams Esr Decr. 11 1779.”


On Orvilliers' replacement by Du Chaffault, see Gellée to JA, 11 Oct., note 1 (above).


In addition to its naturally well-protected harbor, which required ships to enter one at a time, El Ferrol possessed a heavy complement of forts and supporting dockyards and arsenals (Edinburgh Gazetteer). See also JQA's description of El Ferrol in his Diary entry of 8 Dec. (JQA, Diary , 1:9–10); and JA to AA, 11 Dec. ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:243).


JA uses the English version of this phrase, “bad Example,” in his Diary entry of 14 Dec., where he explains it more precisely and adds another Spanish fear, that an independent United States might “become ambitious and be seised with the Spirit of Conquest and aim at Mexico and Peru.” He then gives a spirited critique of both the “bad Example” and the American ambition arguments ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:408). In his Autobiography, however, JA gives a quite different view of Spanish attitudes toward the Anglo-American conflict and its implications for the Spanish empire (same, 4:224–225).